Test Drive: Alfa Romeo 4C

Everyone remembers his or her first automobile.  Mine was a 1987 Alfa Romeo Spider Quadrifoglio Verde.  Though it was the top of the line model at the time with side skirts, 16 inch alloy wheels, and a removable hardtop (which mine didn’t come with), the car was by no means a speed demon.  The engine was a mere twin-cam 2.0 with 130 hp.  Regardless of its meager performance capabilities, it was a sharp little whip.  I’d drop the top back, put the shades on, turn some Simon and Garfunkel on and I was Benjamin Braddock. I only had the car for two years, unfortunately when the car was totaled.  The first thing that happened was the chord for the trunk latch snapped and it was the only way to get the thing opened.  It was my freshman year in college and, being the young idiot that I was, I put my school bag in the trunk.  Sounds like no big deal, but what was perhaps the greatest engineering flaw was the trunk – it had no keyhole and that was where Alfa positioned the car’s battery.  The only way to open the trunk in that series of Spiders was from the latch  next to the drivers seat.  I tried desperately to pry it open as gently as I could until the fury that was building inside me reached its peak and I just beat the hell of the rear end.  The car was still operable, but the damage I had done to the trunk and the quarter panels was beyond anything I could afford to repair, especially since Alfa Romeos along with Fiat and Lancia were no longer imported into the US.  Only selective parts were manufactured aftermarket.  A few weeks later a deer rammed into the side of the hood and that was end of the ’87 Spider Quadrifoglio.  The thing was totaled, sent off to a salvage yard, and I never drove another Alfa Romeo…until now!

Fast forward sixteen years…I was visiting Bucks County, Pennsylvania last week and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for such outdoor activities as test driving a car, but not just any car – a new Alfa Romeo.  For more than a decade I’d been stewing about the Alfa’s return to the American soil.  Rumors sprouted year after year, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the rumors became truth.  In case you didn’t know how it came to be, it all started with the market crash of 2008.   GM, Ford, and Chrysler were in financial turmoil.  Daimler severed ties with Chrysler in 2007 leaving Chrysler on its own.  After the government bailed out the bankrupt Chrysler Corporation, Fiat S.p.A (now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) subsequently bailed out the government in 2009 by forming an alliance with the troubled corporation in what was considered “Chrysler Chapter 11 Reorganization.”  By 2011 Fiat’s debt with the US and Canada was settled and the 7.6 billion dollars used to purchase Chrysler’s shares from the Treasury Department were paid back.  Fiat was the first of the line of autos to return to the US market in 2011 with the cheap and economical 500.  It was Black Friday in 2014 when I decided to purchase a new Fiat 500 Abarth from a dealer that had the brand new Alfa Romeo 4c Launch Edition in its showroom.  I hadn’t seen a brand new Alfa since my last trip to Europe and even then I certainly hadn’t seen one like this.  This wasn’t MiTo hatchback or even a Spider.  This was a mini super car.  She was red black interior and silver alloy wheels.  There are only subtle differences to the Launch Edition, such as  19 in rear wheels and two intake vents on either side of the front end, but the car performs to the same standard as the regular 4C, so shelling out an extra 10 grand on an already pricey weekend toy that fetches a minimum 60K.  I wanted to drive her so desperately, but back then only selected dealers were allocated a 4C, and most of them only got one, which meant they weren’t going to let any schmoe waltz in and throw him keys.  Most of them were sold anyway from pre-delivery orders.

Now, however, most dealers are carrying the 4C on their lots as any other vehicle.  I visited a Maserati Alfa Romeo store.  The connection between the two auto makers began in 2005 when Maserati and Ferrari severed ties in 2005 and joined up with Fiat.  I was enjoying a nice weekend out in the suburbs on a beautiful 70 degree afternoon when I decided to stroll into the parking lot of the dealer.  There were 3 Coupes and 1 Spider on the lot and a yellow Spider in the show room – a color I’ve never liked on any car ever.  I was greeted by an excellent sales consultant.  He was the only one in the store and wasn’t the least bit pushy.  I was sad to hear that he had just sold the last red one, but he threw me the keys to the white coupe and I started her up.  This particular one was a demo car, so it had a few miles on it and, thus, a pretty reasonable discount.  Stepping into the little Coupe might be a challenge for some people.  I’m only 5’11” with a lean build, but it still wasn’t as easy as slipping into an Escalade.  In fact, my Fiat is even easier.   There isn’t much head room and because the car is so low to the ground getting in required some spinal flexibility.  Don’t forget that the car’s performance value is based on its extremely light carbon fiber frame, so you want to be sure to stay as fit as possible to get the most out it.  Long legs, though, are not a problem for the 4C.  I noticed the pedals were too far a stretch when I first got in, so I had to adjust the seat.

I revved the motor a couple of times before putting her in drive and taking off.  The sound of that little 1.8l turbo 4 rings right into your from its rear mounted position.  You can hear the humming from right behind your headrest.  Driving through the parking lot requires a little more elbow torque than most automobiles today, because the car does not offer power steering.  It’s basically stripped of any amenities that would otherwise weight it down.  My old Alfa didn’t come with it either and because the car is so small, it isn’t really a necessity, it just gets a little annoying when you’re trying to park it.  My Abarth is the same  way if the sport mode is engaged.  The instrument cluster is one digital is one digital unit, which offers a really nice display.  If you’re used to analogue you’ll want to familiarize yourself with it before you go out driving, because it looks so busy and you won’t want to take your eyes off the road for too long looking for the time.  The transmission a push-button six-speed automatic with the paddle shifting feature.  I know that all salesmen say that the tiptronics shift faster than any manual with a clutch, but if you’re like me you like a traditional gearbox transmission.  Because I was doing city driving I was shifting a lot and I kept forgetting what gear I was in, so instead of having to constantly look at the screen, I just pushed the car’s full automatic button.  Well, actually, the sales rep had to show me which one it was.

But enough of the negatives…Let’s get down to the real reason you want to buy this car: she’s sexy as hell and can move down the road pretty swiftly!  The Alfa Romeo 4C is piece of fine Italian craftsmanship.  Unlike its Fiat sister, whose assembled in Mexico, this car is full blooded Italian.  The truth is, Fiats only come equipped with transmissions made in Italy.  The engine is from Detroit and both parts are exported with the rest to Toluca for assembly. Everything on the Alfa Romeo is made and put together in Modena.  Because of such strict crash test regulations, however, the carbon fiber frame is reinforced with aluminum inserts to meet US standards.  Alfa was expected to bring the new Giulia Sedan to the market earlier this year, but it failed the crash test.  The insterts do add a couple hundred pounds to the car, but it’ll still sprint from 0-60 in 4 1/2 seconds.  The engine’s output may seem modest by today’s standards, but the Alfa Romeo 4c is the fastest 237 hp vehicle I’ve ever been in.

The handling is excellent on any turn and brakes very comfortably also.  Because this was a demo car, it had already been broken in, which was great.  To get the full driving experience from a 4C, you want to feel the sport mode, but the odometer must reach its first 200 miles before it can be engaged.  It can reach top speed of 160 mph, which may or may not place it in the super car category, but I would agree that the Alfa 4C should qualify as at least a baby super car.  The styling is just as sophisticated to compete with any of its competitors, but the big question is: Is it worth the money?  I’m not so sure.

After I pulled back into the lot, I did another walk-around inspection.  I told the sales rep I wasn’t terribly crazy about the color white and the wheels were a multi spoke matte black.  I personally liked the ones I saw first on the Launch Edition.  The price on the tag was a bit of a bargain at $64,000 and the sales rep told me there was still some money to work with.  Alfa Romeos also have special financing and lease options, but I didn’t get into specifics.  If you browse online, the MSRP is listed at $55,900 to start, but the likelihood of finding a new one that low is slim.  Because the car is a rare commodity, dealers can stretch the price and depending on the options, it’s more likely to find a Coupe priced between 68 and 70 and a Spider closer to 78.  All the models I saw on the lot were 2015 leftovers, hence the discount.  As much as I enjoyed getting back into an Alfa and feeling the eyes on me again, I wouldn’t be so quick to shell out the high five figures, especially when I could spend it on another FCA novelty car like a Challenger Hellcat.  The Alfa is gorgeous and it’s quick, but let’s face it -dollar for dollar the Hellcat has more balls for the money.  For 65 g’s, you’d also have a tough time keeping me out of a Vette.

Nevertheless, Alfa Romeo had twenty years to get right.  Did they?  Absolutely.  I’m glad they’re back!20160309_163910

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